Questioning Globalization

The Christian Century, October 28, 1998 | Go to article overview

Questioning Globalization


SUDDENLY, globalization doesn't look so good after all, and the invisible hand of the marketplace has proven it self unable to handle the traumatic integration of the world economy. That, at any rate, was the consensus of participants at a recent gathering in Prague of political, religious and cultural elites from around the world.

With the economic crises of Asia and Russia now threatening the West, even the most hard-line pragmatists agreed with Swiss theologian Hans Kung's call for a universal set of values. "Global markets, without having some kind of ethical basis, are dangerous," said Kung. "Some of the turmoil we've got now in financial markets is due to the fact that a few people believed you can have world economics without also having a world ethic."

Over the past year, currencies throughout Asia and in Russia have collapsed, sending those nations into deep recessions, toppling governments, causing riots in Indonesia and shaking the American and European financial markets. This growing crisis gave new urgency to the second annual Forum 2000 conference, hosted by Vaclav Havel, the philosopher-president of the Czech Republic. In the ratified atmosphere of historic Prague Castle, academics and spiritual leaders met with such political players as U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, discussing everything from the finer points of theology to the role of the International Monetary Fund.

Kissinger, despite his reputation as the ultimate Machiavellian of modern American politics, argued that globalization is doomed if left to the control of currency speculators anti multinational firms. "I have been uneasy for years about this view of a global economy in which people am asked to accept suffering for the efficacy of an abstract market," said Kissinger, who charged that the IMF's bailout programs have only worsened the situation. "The global economic crisis has become so severe because the technical economists have treated it without regard for the political and moral capacities of the people that were involved," he said.

Tun Daim Zainuddin, Malaysia's minister of special functions, defended his nation's imposition of strict new currency controls. Zainuddin said Malaysia saw its currency sink last year after it lifted too many regulations under the advice of international agencies "that preached the virtues of free capital flows but neglected to warn about the dangers of fickle investor sentiments." He spoke critically of "many in the West who, with glee and relish, celebrated" their windfall profits from Asia's currency collapses before realizing that they, too, could suffer in a looming world recession.

The American first lady argued that globalization is "in and of itself neither a good nor an evil," but added that it could succeed only with a balance of government, economics and a civil society with access to education, health care and financial credit. …

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